Everything You Need To Know About The Blackhawks This Season
By Sal Barry
After the Chicago Blackhawks brought home their third Stanley Cup championship in six seasons, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman deemed the team a modern-day dynasty.
A hockey league-imposed salary cap on players makes winning back-to-back titles difficult, but we think the Blackhawks may very well be able to bring home the cup again. The team lost several key players this year, but through trades and free agent signings the Blackhawks look poised to defend their title.
And that title defense starts now. With hockey season starting Wednesday night, here's everything you need to know about the Blackhawks' outlook this hockey season. Plus, we'll throw in a little hockey trivia that you can use to impress your puck-loving friends.
Out with the old...
The greatest challenge faced by Hawks GM Stan Bowman was getting the team under the salary cap, which was increased from $69 million to $71.4 million. Both Jonathan Toews' and Patrick Kane's salaries ballooned from $6.5 million to $13.8 million this year. The team had several tough choices to make.
Winger Patrick Sharp was traded, mainly to offload his $5.5 million salary, although his production did drop off sharply (no pun intended) from the previous year. Kris Versteeg and Brandon Saad, a restricted free agent, were also sent packing.
The Blackhawks could not afford to re-sign second-pair defenseman Johnny Oduya, who wanted to remain with the Blackhawks and even waited two weeks for the team to clear cap space for him. Ultimately, he signed with the Dallas Stars. Centers Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette also found greener pastures elsewhere.
Meanwhile, defenseman Kimmo Timonen and winger Daniel Carcillo retired, though their absence won't be noticed. Goaltender Antti Raanta, who began last season as the number two goalie but slid to third on the depth chart, was dealt to the New York Rangers.
...in with the new
But there is an upside to all of this change. The Blackhawks received some exciting players in the trades they made, and signed a few free agents of their own. Plus, it opens up room for some of their homegrown talent to play a bigger role. Here is a rundown of the Blackhawks' new guys for 2015-16.
Burning Questions for 2015-16
First, the Patrick Kane controversy must be addressed. Kane was accused by a Buffalo-area woman of overpowering and raping her in August. The fact that both the Blackhawks and the NHL have adopted a "wait and see" approach has drawn criticism. If Kane is formally charged, he would (rightly) be suspended by the league. But until the case is either escalated or dropped, will the ongoing investigation diminish his play on the ice?
Another question mark is winger Bryan Bickell, who the Blackhawks attempted to trade to the Edmonton Oilers last week before putting him on waivers for any team to take him. No team did. Bickell will be hard to move because of his $4 million salary and because he has been experiencing symptoms of vertigo. For now, he'll stay with the Hawks.
Finally, how soon will Marko Dano get his shot? He put up decent numbers in limited action in Columbus last season, and played well enough in training camp, so his demotion to Rockford last week came as a surprise. Most likely, he will be the first player recalled if a forward is injured—or if the Hawks trade Bickell.
Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks lifts the Stanley Cup trophy during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Games You Should Not Miss
With 82 games in a season, it is tough to watch them all. So here is a handy list of ten "must-watch" games for the season:
October 7 vs. New York Rangers - Not only is it the first game of the season—and the home opener—but the team will raise a Stanley Cup Champions banner in a pregame ceremony.
October 26 vs. Anaheim Ducks - A rematch of the 2015 Western Conference Finals, which may have been more intense than last year's Finals.
November 8 vs. Edmonton Oilers - This will be Chicago's first look at Connor McDavid, who was selected first overall in June's draft and is considered hockey's next generational talent.
November 18 @ Edmonton Oilers - This kicks off a six-game road trip against Western Conference teams, while the circus sets up shop in the United Center for two weeks. A bad road trip could hurt the Blackhawks in the standings, making the first game in this trip a "must-win."
January 5 @ Pittsburgh Penguins & January 6 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins - A home-and-home series against the offensively-gifted Penguins. Expect two high octane, high-scoring games.
January 21 @ Tampa Bay Lightning - The long-awaited rematch between the 2015 Stanley Cup Finalists.
February 11 vs. Dallas Stars - Although Patrick Sharp was in the lineup when the Stars visited the Blackhawks in the preseason, this will be his first official game back at the United Center since his trade. Sharp played with the Blackhawks for ten years, so it will be interesting to see how fans welcome him back, and if the Hawks honor him with a video tribute before the game.
March 2 @ Detroit Red Wings - Sure, the Blackhawks are two years removed from being division rivals with the Red Wings—but that hasn't lessened the vitriol Hawks fans have for Detroit. Plus, with the Wings moving to a new stadium in 2017, this is the second-to-last game, barring a potential Chicago-Detroit Cup Finals, that the Blackhawks will play at Joe Louis Arena.
April 9 @ Columbus Blue Jackets - The last game of the season. The Blackhawks will have a playoff spot clinched by then, but might need to win the last game to ensure a higher berth. But if their playoff berth is finalized, coach Joel Quenneville will probably rest his stars and play some prospects, giving us a look at some players who may become regulars the following year.
Outlook for 2015-16
The Blackhawks lost some reliable scoring in Saad and Sharp, and a solid defender in Oduya, but Bowman did an admirable job of replacing them with players who have the potential to do better. Plus, core players Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are all entering the prime years of their careers. It's scary to think that they might be better now than they were last year.
That said, this will not be a repeat of the 2010-11 season, when the Hawks stumbled after having to dump several of their better players to make cap room, only to replace them with rookies and journeymen (Fernando Pisani, anyone?). Clinching first place in the Central Division may not happen, but as the Blackhawks have proven over the past few years, being the lower seed in the playoffs doesn't matter if you are a good team. Expect a deep playoff run. If the team's new players can step up and contribute, another Stanley Cup Championship is within reach.